Tuesday, 03 Sep 2019 13:59 GMT

Textile Printing

It has been identified as one of the key growth areas of the sign and print industries, but how easy is it to incorporate textile printing into your offering? Summer Brooks finds out

Living in a material world

Textile printing is booming at the moment. Technologies are being developed, improved and released at pace and the market is responding – and it wants more. Retail and the exhibition industries are key players in driving growth, as soft signage and personalisation continue to prove themselves as popular trends.

Dressing the market

Tim Egerton, sales manager at Soyang Europe, comments: “The textile market is booming with machinery and product capabilities are developing at a rapid pace. The demand for printed textiles continues to increase and sectors such as retail and the exhibition industry are widely dominated by textile graphics, for a number of reasons. Creatively, printed textiles offer interesting applications and with high-end backlit fabrics offering a really premium result, the adoption of textiles by airports, department stores and technology retailers drives a strong, quality message.

Wallcoverings are an increasingly popular application for textiles that could also work to absorb sound in places like offices or galleries 

“With their low mass and resistance to damage in transit, printed textile graphics are easy, safe and inexpensive to ship to site and when received, installation can be carried out by visual merchandisers rather than taking up resources from the sign-maker.”

Phil Oakley is the regional business manager for large-format printing at HP, which recently moved into the dye-sublimation arena with the Stitch series. “Observing the changes in the textile industry and being driven by the insights we have into the consumer behaviour – the need for faster delivery, personalised and high-quality products from the local market – we identified a need for more innovative products that can fulfill this demand,” he comments. “The growth of the market has surpassed the expectations we had three years ago for this segment.

Judging by the reactions received during the introduction of the HP Stitch product portfolio and considering the increasing demand from the end customer, we expect an exponential increase in demand in the future.”

Chris Green, head of channel visual communications and hardware at Antalis, explains what is driving the market at the moment: “The main trend for textiles is for interior decoration in the décor market and for personalisation. There is certainly a new trend and increasing use of textiles for ‘pop-ups’ which is really enabling large-format printers, both specialists and commercial printers, to diversify their offering, to capitalise on the growing opportunities presented by this.”

Green says that, according to Business Leader Magazine, the UK’s pop-up industry is currently worth over £2.3bn a year. “With almost 30% of British businesses beginning their entrepreneurial journey as a pop-up, it’s safe to say that the phenomenon isn’t going away any time soon,”

he adds. “Textiles are ideal for this application as they are relatively cost effective, versatile, lightweight and easy to install.”

O Factoid: The digitally printed textile market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 11.6% to reach ¤4.9bn (£4.5bn) in 2023 (Smithers Pira, 2019).  O

Hybrid Services, Mimaki’s exclusive UK and Ireland distributor, is no stranger to the world of textile printing, having provided wide-format solutions since 1996. “Mimaki has a long and illustrious history in textile printing, introducing its first wide-format, direct-to-textile printer in the late 1990s,” comments Brett Newman, chief operations manager at Hybrid. “Its product range has grown steadily in subsequent years, resulting in a current line-up that offers something for everyone. From the entry level TS30 wide-format dye-sublimation printer to the incredible new Tiger-1800B MkII industrial textile printer, Mimaki has developed a textile-specific model to suit almost every need.”

Widespread adoption of printed textile graphics within the retail and exhibition sectors has seen previously established media replaced by fabric

Newman adds: “Summer 2019 saw ITMA’s four-year cycle come around again and Mimaki used the exhibition in Barcelona to present new technology that adds further options for our textile customers to increase their productivity, target new markets and benefit from Mimaki’s latest solutions.” He agrees that the adoption of printed textiles in retail and exhibition sectors is driving demand. “The textile printing market continues to grow and offers significant potential for print companies to expand their offering,” he adds. “Widespread adoption of printed textile graphics within the retail and exhibition sectors has seen previously established media replaced by fabric and the burgeoning personalisation market continues to present opportunities to print bespoke designs onto everything from cushions to bags and apparel.”

New developments

Like any growth area, textile printing is being fuelled by innovation, and the demand for high quality printed textiles. “The technical textile developments taking place at Soyang Technologies in China are happening at a rapid rate, with new and improved products coming to market regularly to meet demand,” says Egerton. “Soyang’s ST-217 Eclipse white reverse blockout is a newly released textile, ideal for exhibitions where the reverse of the fabric can be seen, ensuring the stand is neatly decorated throughout.”

HP’s launch of the Stitch was driven by what Oakley says is the pain point of the textile market. “By listening to the needs of the print providers and addressing the textile market pain point – the constant need to keep up with increasing demand – we are proudly introducing the new HP Stitch printer range,” Oakley says. “The printers include several new tools to address the print providers’ needs – tools such as colour consistency over time and colour consistency between printers for farms, easy maintenance, self-replacing printheads, easy operation and more powerful colours at higher printing speeds, all to provide the needed reliable production capabilities.”

An example of soft signage produced with the HP Stitch

Antalis, which traditionally supplies paper, has recently forayed into the world of textiles with the addition of Coala Textiles, a range of coated polyester printable textiles for signage and decoration. Green explains the move: “Textile products have great versatility and, as they are 100% polyester, they are a more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional PVC materials. The introduction of textile products came in response to the increasing trend for bespoke and personalised signage and decoration in commercial and residential environments.” The Coala range is designed for use in signage – frontlit, backlit, blockout, stretch and flags – as well as specialist decorations like wallcoverings.

The Coala range from Antalis can also be used in backlit signage applications

Mimaki recently launched the TS55-1800 dye-sublimation printer, targeting soft signage, furnishings and sports apparel sectors. “The TS55 is the ideal printer for sign-makers and wide-format print providers to really make their mark, with short- to medium-run lengths handled with ease,” comments Newman. “Thanks to its relatively low cost to entry, competitively priced consumables and intuitive workflow, we’re seeing strong uptake with both established sublimation printing operations and companies new to the sector.”

An example of a garment printed using the Mimaki TS55-1800

An easy transition

Egerton of Soyang Europe says that textile printing is a “straight-forward transition” for sign-makers and wide-format printers, especially in display graphics where those companies are likely to already have hardware that is compatible with textiles. “In an increasingly challenging market, it’s important for print providers to be able to offer new and exciting applications to their existing customers – avoiding them looking elsewhere whilst fuelling their enthusiasm to encourage their end clients to investigate new ways of communicating their promotional messages,” Egerton adds. “If print providers are not currently textile printing, we would urge them to seriously consider incorporating a textile printing provision in the near future to avoid missing a great opportunity, not forgetting that their existing UV or latex print technologies make textile print possible.”

Soyang has been developing its printed textile offering to cater to demand from the retail and exhibition industries

Oakley of HP says that by bringing textile printing in-house, companies can have more control over the whole process. “With the growing demand of specialities like front and backlit, beach flags and flags, dye-sublimation is fulfilling an important market need. Companies are looking for new ways to promote their business as providers of a complete range of applications. By printing themselves, they have colour consistency in their own hands and are able to deliver faster.”

The market is fast-paced, but technological developments on both hardware and materials mean it’s never been easier to get into it

Newman of Hybrid Services agrees that textile printing is an easy route for companies looking to diversify. “Sign-makers and wide-format printers need to be considering textile printing right now,” he says. “The market is fast-paced, but technological developments on both hardware and materials mean it’s never been easier to get into it.”

The future

The future of textile printing will be influenced by an increasing demand for the print industry to improve its environmental credentials. Egerton comments: “We expect to see products with recycled yarns becoming even more popular in the near future. The increasing pressure on the printing industry to reduce environmental impact will lead to a move towards greener products like our partners at Senfa, which already have recycled yarn products within its portfolio.”

Despite predicted growth in textile printing, a small percentage of it is produced using digital technologies, which Newman says presents an opportunity: “With only a single figure percentage of the printed textile market produced digitally, there’s huge potential for digital to expand – and it is doing so at a rapid rate. Whilst we’re seeing a strong uptake within the soft signage and graphics market, the real expansion will come through the fashion and furnishings sectors and the ability to offer bespoke, personalised product is already gaining traction.”

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